By Sarah Collins

 

Fashion Editor Sarah Collins takes a look at the fashion industry and how the ongoing pandemic has impacted the industry over the last few years. 

 

In March 2020, when COVID-19 swept through the world at an unprecedented pace, it became clear that this virus would have long-lasting results not only from a health perspective but from an economic one too.

 

The retail sectors have been one of the hardest hit, with huge stores and major companies shutting down indefinitely with no set contingency plans in place or advance warning. Since then, the effects of the pandemic on the fashion industry globally have been catastrophic, with rippling side effects that will change the face of fashion for many years, if not forever.

 

Let’s be honest, the list of what needs to be improved in the over $1.5 trillion fashion industry is never ending. The impact of COVID-19 on the people who make our clothes has been huge. For years now global citizens have been encouraging an end to overconsumption. We also know that in the face of this unexpected halt in manufacturing, it is the most vulnerable, lowest paid people in the fashion supply chain that have felt the worst, most damaging effects. Global trade union ‘IndustriALL’ which works to give workers around the world a voice, has stated that millions of garment makers have already lost their jobs as a result of the virus and have little to no access to social or financial safety nets to help them weather this storm. 

 

Writing for the Business of Fashion, Bangladeshi garment manufacturer Mostafiz Uddin made a very thought provoking point, “Poverty is a killer too, and many more people die from poverty than from COVID-19”.

 

If we look at the fashion industry as a whole, multi million dollar brands typically pay their suppliers weeks if not months after delivery, rather than paying them upon order. This subsequently means that suppliers usually pay upfront for the materials or fibres used to make the products that brands buy from them. In response to the pandemic, fashion brands and retailers have cancelled their orders and stopped payments for orders already placed, even when the work has already been done, and they have taken no responsibility for the impact this has on the people working in their supply chains. These huge factories are left with no choice but to destroy or keep hold of unwanted goods already made and lay off their workers in droves.

 

I read an article by Bloomberg recently which stated that 1,089 garment factories in Bangladesh have had orders cancelled worth roughly $1.5 billion due to the coronavirus outbreak. The AWAJ Foundation also made a point that many factories in Bangladesh have been shut down for good. A lot of workers were given less than a month’s salary as severance and many others have received nothing at all. The executive director of AWAJ explains, “These workers now don’t know how they will take care of their families in the coming days – how they will manage costs for food, rent and other necessities. They can’t even imagine what they’ll do if they or a family member needs medical treatment for COVID-19”. The little to no income these workers earned was not enough to cover their living costs, and so they had little to no savings set aside to deal with a crisis such as this.

 

The luxury industry was also hit hard as influential designers such as Gucci, Prada and Salvatore Ferragamo significantly cut their orders to luxury leather and textile houses, which had a huge impact on their workers too. 

 

This closure of factories and decline in orders has placed an enormous amount of pressure on luxury retailers, and I presume they now have to face the music and ask themselves about the impact this will have on their own future inventory and sales forecasts? Will it go down? Will it rise sharply? These are all questions that must be answered. 

 

As the world begins to open up again after the pandemic, every single one of us has to adapt and change the way we buy and sell. 

 

Could these issues be a catalyst and just what the fashion industry needs to switch things up? What are these solutions going to look like?

 

What we have seen so far is that retailers have extended the seasonality of stock, and this has become a hot topic in the previous years due to a growing backlash to bi-annual fashion weeks due to the environmental aspect. 

 

Back in May 2020, Creative Director of Gucci, Michele Alessandro announced at a conference that he was going to cut out the traditional S/S and A/W shows and replace them with only one gender-neutral show stating, “We need new oxygen to allow this complex system to be reborn.” 

 

Giorgio Armani followed suit in an open letter wn which he said, “This crisis is an opportunity to slow down and realign everything; to define a more meaningful landscape. The decline of the fashion system, as we know it, started when the luxury sector adopted the fast fashion operating mode with the continuous delivery cycle, hoping to sell more…I don’t want to work like this anymore, it’s immoral.” 

 

The industry has changed in many ways since the beginning of the pandemic with e-commerce on the rise very sharply. Will we see more substantial changes in the fashion industry in the months and years to come? There is no doubt about it, and these changes are needed for the better so that the industry can continue to live on and be a force of good in the world. 

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